Tuesday, September 19, 2000


Australia ain't what it's cracked up to be

        SYDNEY — Online Man can't find a Foster's. He is downtown by the famous harbor, at the Orient Hotel bar, in a neighborhood full of pubs selling oceans of beer.

        “Foster's, please,” Online Man says, confident of his place in his new Australian world.

        “We don't carry it, mate,” the barmaid says.

        Online Man (also known for the duration of these Olympics as, simply, The Man) is stunned. “There must be some mistake,” he says. “You must have misunderstood me. I would like a Foster's. Foster's is Australian for beer.”

        “Not here, mate.”

        “What about the TV ads? The blokes in the outback, doing silly, Australian things? They drop this big can of Foster's onto the screen. They say, "Foster's: Australian for beer.' This is Australia, right?” asks Online Man, cheekily.

        “Sorry, mate,” the barmaid says. “We have Toohey's.”

        Online Man is having trouble in paradise. He asks for Foster's and is scoffed at. He goes to dinner and cuts loose a “throw a shrimp on the barbie.” Heh-heh. Am I a native, or what?

        “You're a wanker, mate,” they say.

        No kangaroos on leashes, hopping around the neighborhood.

        No Outback steakhouse.

        “I need a bloomin' onion,” declares The Man.

        “Take a hike, mate,” they say.

        He thought these Olympics would be a piece of cake. The hosts speak English, the food is familiar, the phones work, the buses run on time. Online Man assumed he'd stroll right in like he'd been here for years.

        He's stumbling. He's making more faux pas than the Three Stooges at a state dinner.

        “So,” he said smoothly to the sheila next to him at the Orient Hotel bar, “On weekends, do you hang out in the outback?”

        It's a disaster.

        “No worries, mate,” a bus driver named Greg said. Greg is The Man's new mate.

        No worries. This is what everyone says. This really is Australian. The entire continent could slide south into Antarctica, and everyone would be slamming Toohey's and saying, “No worries, mate.”

        Greg sets The Man straight on some things. The notion that Aussies drink Foster's “is a bit of a myth. A marketing thing,” says Greg. “Although I'm sure there's a lot of folks that do drink Foster's.”

        “Do you know any?”

        “Not really, mate. I drink Toohey's out of a stubbie, Carlton out of a glass,” Greg says. That would be Toohey's from a bottle and Carlton from the tap. “Though after a few, you can't really tell the difference, mate.”

        And the shrimp? On the barbie?

        “A few bangers maybe, mate,” says Greg. “Not shrimp.”

        Bangers are sausages.

        Online Man is having trouble with the translation. Aussies make a point of being casual, to the point of breaking off words in mid-syllable. Breakfast is “brekkie”. Relatives are “rellys”, umbrellas are “brollys”, holidays are “hollys”.The Man thinks this is too cute by half.

        They even call umpires “umpies.” Sorry, but “kill the umpie” doesn't pack much menace, mate.

        Online Man is learning, but not fast enough.

        “Anyone seen Paul Hogan?” he asks.

        Pathetic. Pathie, perhaps.

Complete Olympics coverage at Cincinnati.com/olympics

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